Innovation is a touchy subject in the off-trade. Retailers are calling for it and producers say they are keen to invest in it, yet the expected wave of new product development has not yet materialised.
“Innovation and eye-catching products have not been forthcoming in the past 12 months and I am hoping that the year ahead will offer something that is both exciting and full of taste,” says Ged Futter, beer buyer at Asda.
Many within the industry share the same hopes. But producers are carefully watching pricing before they can safely invest in growing value through innovation.
Last year retailers looked to be growing the category in terms of value, according to Kevin Brownsey, off-trade sales director at Coors Brewers. “We were hoping to start
responding by investing in innovation as they keep on requesting,” he says.
But so far this year, pricing has been downward and “the multiple sector is clearly focused on pricing, so for us to invest in innovation is a limited option,” says Brownsey.
Last year was not totally without development, however. Coors is working with convenience groups to get its chilled offerings up. “We have been working on things such as the (temperature sensitive) thermochrome can and bottle and other chilled packaging solutions. We have also been looking at pack sizes that are suitable for chilling and smaller bottles and cans.”
Interbrew UK has taken a similar approach. Its 284ml half-pint slim can for Stella Artois is packaged in a special format so that it can easily fit in a fridge door.
“This kind of packaging innovation can grow value as it is priced at the premium end,” says Interbrew UK’s MD of take-home sales Stuart MacFarlane. While MacFarlane admits that historically brewers haven’t exactly had a reputation for innovation, he stresses that Interbrew will be focusing on specialist beers and innovation in the coming years.
Packaging innovation has been touched on by other brewers too. Earlier this year Heineken brought out its keg-shaped can, which it claims is the best-performing 300ml can in the off-trade.
Chris Phillips, customer development director at Carlsberg UK, says its newest packaging has been “designed with a contemporary feel to attract a wider audience to Carlsberg Export”.
New brands have not been absent from innovation. Kronenbourg Blanc was launched into the off-trade by Scottish Courage as an added-value entrant. The months ahead may also see Coors launch its on-trade C2 low abv brand into the off-trade.
Others are investing in the low or no-alcohol sector. Cobra brought out an alcohol-free beer as well as a Lower Cal, Lower Carb beer.